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A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

Every body sayth now that mother W


[34]

_Dialogue_, ed of 1603, K 2 verso.

[35] _Ibid._, D 3 verso; _Discourse_, G 3 verso, H 3 verso.

[36] _Ibid._, D 2 verso.

[37] Gifford grew very forceful when he described the progress of a case against a witch: "Some woman doth fal out bitterly with her neighbour: there followeth some great hurt.... There is a suspicion conceived. Within fewe yeares after shee is in some jarre with an other. Hee is also plagued. This is noted of all. Great fame is spread of the matter. Mother W. is a witch.... Wel, mother W. doth begin to bee very odious and terrible unto many, her neighbours dare say nothing but yet in their heartes they wish shee were hanged. Shortly after an other falleth sicke and doth pine.... The neighbors come to visit him. Well neighbour, sayth one, do ye not suspect some naughty dealing: did yee never anger mother W? truly neighbour (sayth he) I have not liked the woman a long tyme. I can not tell how I should displease her, unlesse it were this other day, my wife prayed her, and so did I, that shee would keepe her hennes out of my garden. Wee spake her as fayre as wee could for our lives. I thinke verely she hath bewitched me. Every body sayth now that mother W. is a witch in deede.... It is out of all doubt: for there were which saw a weasil runne from her housward into his yard even a little before hee fell sicke. The sicke man dieth, and taketh it upon his death

that he is bewitched: then is mother W. apprehended, and sent to prison, shee is arrayned and condemned, and being at the gallows, taketh it uppon her death that shee is not gylty." _Discourse_, G 4-G 4 verso. And so, Gifford explains, the Devil is pleased, for he has put innocent people into danger, he has caused witnesses to forswear themselves and jurymen to render false verdicts.

[38] But his views were warmly seconded by Henry Holland, who in 1590 issued at Cambridge _A Treatise against Witchcraft_. Holland, however, was chiefly interested in warning "Masters and Fathers of families that they may learn the best meanes to purge their houses of all unclean spirits." It goes without saying that he found himself at variance with Scot, who, he declared, reduced witchcraft to a "cozening or poisoning art." In the Scriptures he found the evidence that witches have a real "confederacie with Satan himself," but he was frank to admit that the proof of bargains of the sort in his own time could not be given.

CHAPTER IV.

THE EXORCISTS.

In the narrative of English witchcraft the story of the exorcists is a side-issue. Yet their performances were so closely connected with the operations of the Devil and of his agents that they cannot be left out of account in any adequate statement of the subject. And it is impossible to understand the strength and weakness of the superstition without a comprehension of the role that the would-be agents for expelling evil spirits played. That the reign which had seen pass in procession the bands of conjurers and witches should close with the exorcists was to be expected. It was their part to complete the cycle of superstition. If miracles of magic were possible, if conjurers could use a supernatural power of some sort to assist them in performing wonders, there was nothing very remarkable about creatures who wrought harm to their fellows through the agency of evil spirits. And if witches could send evil spirits to do harm, it followed that those spirits could be expelled or exorcised by divine assistance. If by prayer to the Devil demons could be commanded to enter human beings, they could be driven out by prayer to God. The processes of reasoning were perfectly clear; and they were easily accepted because they found adequate confirmation in the New Testament. The gospels were full of narratives of men possessed with evil spirits who had been freed by the invocation of God. Of these stories no doubt the most quoted and the one most effective in moulding opinion was the account of the dispossessed devils who had entered into a herd of swine and plunged over a steep place into the sea.


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